Mid-life throws us some mean curves. We expect certain losses: our parents passing away, our kids moving on, our bodies changing. It’s the ones we least expect that sometimes catapult us into crisis.
As we sat listening to the sermon, my husband and I gripped each other’s hands and fought back tears. The time had come for him to resign. Though we had seen this on the horizon, the realization gutted us.
After fifteen years of service to our church, he packed up his office and we said a tearful goodbye to the congregation. You lose a lot more than a paycheck when you terminate employment with a church. We were now without a community, without the surrogate aunts and uncles who had loved on our kids, and without a context to serve.
These were not our only losses.
Three days prior to that pivotal Sunday, we buried my mother-in-law. She died in her mid-seventies after a lightening quick battle with pancreatic cancer. Within the next few months, my father and two other close relatives were also diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, our eldest son was moving on. He married young and started a new life 1,500 miles away. Launching a child is obviously not the same as losing a parent, but in both situations, the sudden absence of someone who is deeply loved creates a gaping hole.
A Lost Connection
And then there was the toll on our spiritual lives. Prior to that autumn, my husband and I had a rich, dialogical relationship with God. We sensed his nearness and depended on our ongoing conversations. In this season, it was as if we lost our Wi-Fi connection mid sentence. Perhaps our doubt and confusion became like static, drowning out God’s voice. Perhaps our sorrow rendered us deaf.
Both of us had been faithfully following Jesus for more than thirty years. We’d been on this journey long enough to know that shaking our fists at God and demanding an explanation would be counterproductive. Why? was not the right question. We didn’t blame God for the circumstances we found ourselves in but we did wonder why He chose not to intervene on our behalf.
Because our intense need to understand what happened coincided with feeling disconnected from God, we felt bereft and insecure. Lacking God’s input, we tormented ourselves by second-guessing everything. Our wheels spun out in regret. After months of meta-processing, we shut-down emotionally and went into survival mode. We got up and robotically went through our days in numb efficiency.
Coming Full Circle—Almost
That was seven years ago. We’re certainly not the first to go through what others have called a dark night of the soul. (And it’s never just a night. If we could trust the coming dawn, it wouldn’t feel so dark.) After eighty-four months of wandering, we’ve finally found a church that feels like home. Our hearts are no longer guarded though certain situations still trigger irrational responses.
Prayer has never returned to what it had been. One of the main lessons we learned through this crisis is that having integrity doesn’t spare us from suffering. Righteous living has definite merits and can protect us from some some, but not all pain and loss. This feels unjust and disquieting. I’m now much more aware of life’s fragility and how foolish it is to believe that we can somehow manipulate God to bless and protect us because we’re following the rules.
I’ve never ascribed to the philosophy that health and wealth are evidence of God’s blessing. There’s an awful lot of ungodly men and women out there swimming in wealth while the righteous beg for bread and healing. I began to wonder; how much of my prayer life had been focused on my desire to be spared from pain and loss rather than seeking deeper intimacy with Jesus? And how might this crisis transform how I approached prayer?
Are times when God’s seeming silence is actually an indication of his trust in us? Is God walking us to the school bus stop, giving us a kiss, and saying, “Have a good day. You’ll do fine,” knowing that though we’ll feel moments of insecurity, we will, in fact, do just fine. Is this what it means to grow up?
Aging invites us to become comfortable with paradox: to acknowledge and accept that though we’re growing in wisdom, there’s so much we don’t know. One of the most seminal lessons of midlife is that the opposite of loss is not gain but discovery. For it was only after we were baptized in pain that we became aware of the depth of our courage and resolve. As our season of suffering draws to a close, we’ve come to believe that life isn’t either or—but both and.
Photo credit: ©Dorothy Greco